* A mountainous former Soviet republic bordering China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, most of Kyrgyzstan's five million people are Muslims and live in poverty after the economy collapsed in the 1990s. 

* Akayev, a physicist, has run the country since independence in 1990 but says he will step down in October. He has said any attempt to mount a Ukraine-style Velvet
Revolution may lead to civil war. 

* Kyrgyzstan's image as a beacon of democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia was tarnished after the authorities jailed opposition leader Felix Kulov on embezzlement charges for seven years in 2001. 

* External debts of $2 billion were about the same size as its gross domestic product, but Akayav managed to gain a debt write-off from the Paris Club earlier this month. In a major  boost to the country's economy, the group of creditor nations cancelled $124 million in debt and rescheduled $431 million. 

* The Kumtor gold mine, developed in a joint venture with Canadian company Cameco Corp, accounts for 40% of exports.